Today was the first day of operations of our team and we chose to travel to the town of Tagajo, which has been severely affected by both earthquake and tsunami.
The manager of the town’s social service department Kenta Tesaki remembered us from our previous assessment visit last week and he was happy to register us to work in coordination with the governmental relief plan.
We expressed to him our wish to assist the elderly in cleaning up their homes so that they could move back and regain at least some measure of normality in their lives that have been so heavily shaken in the past two weeks.
While waiting for the assignment, we enjoyed the company of many youth who were also volunteering to help cleaning up the town. They were excited to see us there and, winning their hesitation to express themselves in English, they told us how thankful they were for our gesture of real solidarity.
Eventually we got assigned three homes that matched our requirements and the government staff brought us there and introduced us to Ineko Saitou, aged 73, who was battling with her flooded home. She was alone because her husband was sick and remained at the refugee center and after a few moments of expected hesitation from seeing so many foreigners in bright uniforms in her house, she became our obasan, or grandmother, smiling and feeling again optimistic about life.
She happily directed us in throwing out all the wet tatami mats and mattresses that would have been impossible for her to lift. Her furniture had been thrown all over and mud was thick everywhere. We wanted to clean the house thoroughly but she realized that without water and electricity that was a hard task even for us so she told us that now that the heavy lifting was done, she had plenty of time and renewed energy to gradually clean everything by herself.
Ikuko Maekawa, aged 78, was waiting for us just twenty meters away and was so relieved when we could move out some of her tatami mats and a large bed. Her husband too was at the refugee center, still in a state of shock and unable to even think about returning home.
We completed the task and tried to visit the third home but the aged owner was too much in shock and unprepared for our help. Apparently he didn’t expect any help coming so soon so he requested to postpone our service.
Since we completed our task earlier we spent almost an hour with Ineko and Ikuko who were all too eager to share their experience in the Tsunami. They told us how they were terrorized for twenty long minutes by the upcoming tsunami and how they saw from the eight of their second floor those trying to escape to higher ground quickly being encircled by water on all sides and perish.
As the time passed by the feeling of closeness grew even stronger and they felt free to express their experiences during the Second World War and how seeing us foreigners getting all muddy for their sake had touched their heart, wetted their eyes and make them feel again after a long time that a better world was possible.
Last week Fox News interviewed me and when I described our relief work plan the presenter was skeptical that cleaning up homes could have any impact in such a large disaster. Well, today he was proven wrong because for these two grandmothers the impact was 100%!
Returning at the social service department we submitted a report and everyone around was so thankful in that very special Japanese way. The day of service was over leaving us feeling a bit more neo-humanist and quite eager to continue our humble service the next morning.